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Give ‘babe’ some wriggle room

By Mirko Bagaric - posted Tuesday, 9 May 2006


The pitiable walk from the pig pen to the slaughter house is the high point of the lives of many pigs. It is the only time that many of them are able to move more than several inches in the one direction and, if they get really lucky, feel the sensation of dirt or grass. That’s why most people who eat pork are (often unwittingly) propping up an industry that will constitute the shame of our generation.

The way that we as a community continue to treat farm animals is so barbaric that we will be rightly condemned by future generations, probably your children included, for the unthinkable levels of distress and cruelty that we are inflicting on these emotional and gentle creatures.

Throughout each point in history, humans have always regarded themselves as modern and civilised, and certainly more advanced than earlier generations. Yet, history teaches us that each generation has a blind spot when it comes to certain groups. The pattern is clear. Groups that have been previously arbitrarily excluded from the sphere of moral concern include slaves, people with dark skin, migrants, children and women. Now our savagery and callousness is directed principally towards animals.

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And don’t be an ostrich about the issue and put your head in sand, assuming that a progressive society like Australia surely has laws that properly protect the interests of animals. We don’t. Incredibly the plight of millions of farm animals in Australia is now more barbarous than it was in the days of our forefathers.

A recent report (From Paddocks to Prisons (pdf file 523KB)) compiled by animal protection group Voiceless and endorsed by leading animal protection organisations World Society for the Protection of Animals, Animals Australia, Compassion in World Farming and Humane Society International, highlights the merciless manner in which pigs are now “farmed”. Over a few decades pig farms have discretely moved from a model where pigs roamed in open spaces until they were slaughtered to large scale factory pig production.

It is time to lift the veil of what happens in these factories of institutionalised cruelty. In doing so we are confronted with the jarring reality that more than a quarter of pigs spend most of their lives in “sow stalls”, while more than 60 per cent spend part of their lives in such “accommodation”, which consists of steel stalls and concrete floors. These stalls are so cramped that pigs cannot turn around or take more than one step forward or backward. That’s the reason you no longer see pigs fossicking around farm perimeters during those carefree drives to the country.

By the time they get to the sow stalls pigs have already experienced excruciating levels of pain - we bring it on very early for pigs. Piglets have their tail docked. No anaesthetic is used. This causes them to wither in excruciating pain, so much so that it causes vomiting, and shaking. Their teeth are also clipped, causing intense pain for over two weeks. Recent findings that confirmed that pigs subjected to such treatment exhibit depression and an array of physical ailments including joint damage, urinary infections and gastrointestinal problems are hardly surprising.

We would be hypocrites to continue to turn a blind eye to such practices. We are quick to condemn seal clubbing in Canada and dog farming in Northern China, but seem content to ignore this far more barbaric practice, to creatures whose emotional and intelligence levels are at least as high as that of dogs and seals.

In fact there are few species on earth that are as social as pigs. Mother and piglets form extremely close bonds. Pigs will even co-operate with and defend other pigs. Touch and bodily contact with other pigs is important. They seek this out and lie close together. They can recognise up to 20-30 individuals. They constantly communicate with one another, with mothers singing to their piglets. Piglets run to their mother’s voice. Pigs are capable of higher order brain functions and interactions than were previously thought to be confined to humans. They are so sophisticated that they can understand what is going on in the minds of other pigs and make independent decisions in order to attain what they want.

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Pig factory production is so barbaric that it is already outlawed in Sweden and the United Kingdom and is being phased out in many other civilised places, such as the European Union and parts of the United States.

It is time that we moved back to more traditional forms of pig farming, where pigs are kept in fenced paddocks where they live in communities with other pigs. This free-range system is used with great success in other parts of the world, and studies have shown that the costs are comparable to pig farming.

Pig farmers are desensitised to the suffering of pigs. They’re not going to change their savage practices. Only our consumer muscle can force them to ameliorate their cruel practices. The only way to avoid being stained by the immense suffering of these gentle creatures is to not buy a single gram of pig meat which has not come from free range farming techniques.

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About the Author

Mirko Bagaric, BA LLB(Hons) LLM PhD (Monash), is a Croatian born Australian based author and lawyer who writes on law and moral and political philosophy. He is the author of 20 books and over 100 refereed scholarly articles. He is not connected with any political party or other interest group. He is the author of Australian Human Rights Law (forthcoming). Mirko is the author of Being Happy and Dealing with Moral Dilemmas.

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